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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's been 300 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, and today, for the first time since then, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is leaving his country.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For an unexpected and very high-profile visit to Washington, aimed at sending a message of defiance to Moscow and at showing ongoing support for the billions of dollars of aid that the United States is sending to Kyiv.

FADEL: Joining us now is White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.

FADEL: So first trip Zelenskyy's made outside Ukraine since the war started. What's the message he's sending with this visit, and why now?

KHALID: Well, in terms of why it's happening right now, there's both a global and a domestic audience. The idea here is to show that Ukraine is doing well in the war, despite the recent brutal Russian bombardments that have knocked out power. And what this White House has been saying for, you know, ages at this point is that the U.S. is willing to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

But I will say, Leila, this visit also comes at a very critical moment here in Washington. Congress is wrapping up work on a big spending bill that includes new military and economic aid for Ukraine - roughly $45 billion. This is on top of the billions of dollars the U.S. has already given Ukraine. And, you know, there has been some signs of growing fatigue among the American public in certain polls. For example, a Wall Street Journal survey done just before the midterm elections found that 30% of respondents thought the U.S. was doing too much to help Ukraine, and most of that sentiment was coming from Republican respondents. And back in October, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said his party would not write a, quote, "blank check" for Ukraine. That all being said, the White House has been insisting that there is broad bipartisan support for continuing to aid Ukraine.

FADEL: So in part, this visit - to make sure that support continues. But it's not easy to leave Ukraine and get to D.C. What kind of security arrangements were made for President Zelenskyy to leave the country in the midst of war?

KHALID: Well, this trip came together pretty quickly. A senior administration official told reporters last night that President Biden and President Zelenskyy first talked about this idea of a visit about 10 days ago. I asked about the risk assessment in Zelenskyy coming to the U.S. right now, and this administration official told me that they consulted closely with Zelenskyy on the security parameters, but ultimately, this was his decision to make. Zelenskyy has visited some dangerous areas on the front lines of the war, although I would note that, you know, most of those visits were generally kept secret until after he had left the front lines. This visit is far from secret.

FADEL: So what's the day going to look like? What should we expect to see and hear from Zelenskyy?

KHALID: He's going to spend just a, quote, "few short hours" on the ground from the afternoon into the evening. This trip comes at Biden's invitation, and Zelenskyy will begin his visit at the White House. He'll have what the official told us will be an in-depth strategic discussion with President Biden about sanctions on Russia, humanitarian aid, as well as military aid and training. The two leaders will then hold a joint press conference, and then later Zelenskyy will deliver an address to Congress, something that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members would be a special focus on democracy.

FADEL: And before I let you go, any new details about the kind of aid, the continued help you mentioned earlier, that Washington is giving Ukraine?

KHALID: Well, President Biden does plan to announce today that the U.S. will send Ukraine a Patriot missile battery. This is something that Ukrainians had been asking for in defending itself against Russian missiles. The U.S. plans to train Ukraine on how to use this equipment, not within the country of Ukraine but in a third country.

FADEL: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks, as always.

KHALID: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: After years of wrangling over former President Donald Trump's tax records, the House Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday along party lines to release the documents.

MARTÍNEZ: Trump famously bucked a tradition started by President Richard Nixon in the '70s. Every president since then, including Joe Biden, has released his tax returns to the public. Trump claimed he couldn't release the documents because they were under audit, but the committee said Trump hadn't been audited until it started asking questions.

FADEL: Joining us now is Josh Boak, a reporter with the Associated Press who has been following developments. Good morning, Josh.

JOSH BOAK: Wonderful to be with you.

FADEL: Thanks for being here. So what can we expect to see in these documents?

BOAK: So what the committee basically has done is release an overview report and accompanying analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation and promised to release tax returns related to the former president, as well as affiliated businesses. And what we're seeing so far are two major themes. The first is that the audit process that the IRS requires for presidents did not begin until 2019, more than two years into Trump's presidency. That means he delayed it. More importantly, within that, what we're seeing is that the audit process only really started on April #, 2019, which is the exact day that the House Ways and Means Committee, led by Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, requested Trump's tax returns from the IRS.

The second thing that we see is more confirmation of how Trump was able to avoid taxes. And he was able to minimize his tax bill due to prior losses and carry over those losses, as well as charitable contributions and other activities, some of which raise red flags in terms of whether these were valid ways to reduce taxes. But what the Joint Committee for Taxation report says is that they had concerns about the auditing process by the IRS that was perhaps excessively deferential to the former president.

FADEL: So they're being quite critical of how the IRS handled all this.

BOAK: Very much so.

FADEL: What are you hearing from Trump, the Republicans, about this?

BOAK: The key criticism from House Republicans has been that this is a violation of the president's privacy and that by releasing the returns in this report, Democrats have, quote, "unleashed a dangerous new political weapon" and that that weapon could be turned against them in the coming years, as control of the House reverts to the Republicans in two weeks. Trump has largely posted on Truth Social, which is his social media, but he hasn't directly addressed this, although he's had spokespeople attempt to address it, often raising the same privacy concerns and victimization. Of course, all of this started because Trump broke a multidecade tradition of releasing tax filings as part of being a presidential candidate. And we still don't really know why he chose not to release his filings.

FADEL: And this idea that it was because he was being audited, well, that seems to not be true at this point, correct?

BOAK: Well, it's complicated because he was under audit before he sought the presidency, going back as far as 2009, but then he had a separate set of audit issues once he was president. And so when the former president spoke, it wasn't always clear what he was referring to. In this case, the simplicity of his words complicated the situation.

FADEL: Josh Boak of the Associated Press. Thanks so much.

BOAK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: On Tuesday evening, Afghanistan's Taliban made a dreaded announcement.

MARTÍNEZ: They have banned women from receiving higher education with immediate effect. With that, the highest grade of schooling most Afghan girls can now reach is grade six, the final year of primary school.

FADEL: So they've banned higher education. To talk about this, we have NPR's Diaa Hadid on the line. She covers Afghanistan from her base in neighboring Pakistan. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So give us some context here. What has schooling for women looked like under the Taliban up until now?

HADID: Right. It's actually been a hodgepodge since the Taliban seized power over a year ago. Girls can go to primary school up to grade six, but they've largely been prevented from continuing on to high school. Informally, though, some girls in distant provinces are still going, and others were going to these private tuition centers that were giving them an informal high school education. And this is key - girls could still attend some universities under very strict conditions.

FADEL: And now all that changed yesterday?

HADID: All that changed yesterday with an edict that was issued by the Ministry of Higher Education, which said it was suspending all women from private and public higher education. This morning, security forces fanned out to some universities, and they ordered female students home at gunpoint.

FADEL: Wow.

HADID: And then - yeah. And then we heard something else - that they also went to some of these private tuition centers where girls get an informal education, and they ordered those girls home. And so what looks like is happening is that these avenues for girls to get an education beyond grade six are shutting down.

FADEL: And how are women and girls reacting to all this?

HADID: They're devastated...

FADEL: Yeah.

HADID: ...Including their educators, like Zainab Mohammadi (ph). We - she runs a free-of-charge tuition center. She's educating more than a thousand girls. Have a listen to her.

ZAINAB MOHAMMADI: Last night, I didn't get to sleep. They all - all the girls, they called me, and I cried with them (crying). I will be there for them (ph).

HADID: The line's crackly, but she's saying she promises to stand by her students. And she's waiting for the Taliban to decide if she can keep her center open. Her students fully cover, including their faces, and they follow strict segregation rules. And, you know, other female university students told me they were distraught, even too angry to cry. The timing, Leila, was cruel. Many of them were about to do their final exams, like Spehmai (ph), and listen to her voice message that she sent.

SPEHMAI: I was getting preparation for tomorrow's exam when my friend told me about the closure of university. I'm feeling sad and wondering that, will I be allowed to study again and go to university or not?

FADEL: I mean, this is all really hard to hear. In the few seconds we have left, I mean, the Taliban had promised this more open approach, a respect for fundamental human rights, and yet here we are. Can you tell us why?

HADID: It's because the supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is an ultra-conservative, and he has the final say. It doesn't really matter if everyone beneath him is a moderate. He ultimately decides the shape and form of how Afghanistan is governed.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thank you so much.

HADID: Thank you, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: What will happen to the pandemic restrictions known as Title 42? The restrictions barred many people from seeking asylum in the U.S. and were set to end on Wednesday.

MARTÍNEZ: A temporary stay was issued by the Supreme Court, however, at the request of Republican governors who were worried about a surge. To address the likely increase in border crossings, the governor of Texas has also deployed the Texas National Guard to the border city of El Paso.

FADEL: The guard has put up razor wire between El Paso and Juarez, essentially cutting off one of the busiest crossing points.

MARTÍNEZ: Thousands of people trying to turn themselves in and seek asylum have already arrived in El Paso.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

MARTÍNEZ: "Thank God it was successful because we're alive," says one person. But her journey was rough. What lies ahead for her and many others remains to be seen. Join us on MORNING EDITION to hear more from NPR's Joel Rose, who is reporting live from the border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matt Martinez
Matt Martinez is the Senior Producer for NPR Programming. He leads a team of producers responsible for developing new show and podcast pilots, supporting live events, and supporting stations in their fundraising efforts.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.